New efforts are underway to stop or slow the process of demolishing two local public schools so that developers can build high-rises with new schools in their place.
Parents and local residents near PS 199, on West 70th street, have been especially active trying to stop the plans. And State Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell has introduced a new bill that would make the city use a public process to get the developments approved.
First, some background: months ago, the city put out a “request for expressions of interest” (RFEI) to developers asking them if they were interested in building new high-rises on land that currently houses PS 199 on 70th street and PS 191 on 61st street, as well as a third school on the Upper East Side. The Department of Education didn’t tell parents at the school that it was doing this. The new buildings built on the sites following demolition of the current schools would have new public schools inside them, paid for using tax-exempt bonds backed by taxpayer funds. Lease payments from developers would help fund the bond payments, meaning the city would presumably spend much less money than if the school was built using just public money.
According to drawings, parts of the new schools would be located underground — at PS 199, part of the school would be on the same level as the building’s parking garage. The residential portion of the building on 70th could be as tall as 34 stories, or 46 stories with a special permit. At the one on 61st, the building could be 20 stories, or 36 with a special permit.
Because the sites are owned by the city, development proposals wouldn’t have to go through a public hearing process to be approved. And the DOE is considering plans to potentially build on all three sites, depending on the quality of the bids. Those facts are spelled out clearly in the RFEI. In the weeks since then, a DOE official (who has since left the agency) said that they plan to only build on one of the sites, and that they plan to allow some public review of the proposals. But none of that appears to be in writing, and the DOE would not confirm any of it in response to our questions. Our initial story, which broke the news about the issue and has more of the initial details, is here.
Here’s what some people are doing to try to stop or slow the process:
- David Saphier, who lives near PS 199, has started a site called 199 Demolition: Community Share Center that has lots of information on the proposals, a fuill library of documents, and regular updates about the project and meetings about it. If you’re at all interested, it’s definitely worth checking out the site and getting on his email list. Saphier has also created a petition that already has more than 400 signatures (they’re aiming for at least 500) asking the city to stop the process. “We are asking that the proposal to demolish P.S. 199 end and that a more appropriate solution to our neighborhood’s needs be developed in close cooperation with the Lincoln Square community,” the petition says. You can read and consider signing it here. Saphier says that if you contact him through the site, he can send paper copies of the petition.
- While PS 199 has an active parent group looking at the proposal, we’ve heard less from PS 191, despite attempts to contact parents there. Activist Batya Lawton worries that PS 191 is more likely to be demolished because parents there mostly hail from the Amsterdam Houses housing project and might be overlooked.
- State Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell has also introduced a bill that would make the city go through a public review process called ULURP to allow the public to have a say in any development plans. “[The bill] would legally require full community involvement in the decision-making process. The bill would make the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) mandatory in all similar circumstances, and add parent and community involvement requirements before the city may sell any school building or property.” The text of the bill is here.
- Mel Wymore of Community Board 7 has called for the community to be included in discussions before ULURP, because once the process has started it’s usually a done deal. The other City Council candidates have also called for the process to be stopped or slowed down.
- Community Board 7 Chairman Mark Diller says he is forming a working group to look at the issue and keep everyone informed. We’ll let West Side Rag readers know if we hear more about that, and if there will be an email list.
- Borough President Scott Stringer has called on the DOE to commit in writing to a public process and to keeping the school communities together if they have to move.
- The issue is getting national attention; well-known education reformer Diane Ravitch linked to our stories and wrote about it: “While millions have been spent to renovate these three schools in recent years, the Bloomberg Administration quietly asked New York City’s finest developers whether they would be interested in tearing down these schools and building multi-million dollar, high-rise luxury towers. The only requirement is that the developers provide some space in the basement and/or lower floors for a school to move into space below the upscale residential buildings.”
- Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott is coming to the Upper West Side on April 10. Expect some questions there about the proposal.
We’ve posted Stringer and O’Donnell’s letters below.
One quick note: we have heard from some people that there is no other room for new schools in this area. But private schools have found all sorts of space: The Mandell School leased a large space in The Aire on West 67th street, and Collegiate is building a new school between West 61st and West 62nd. The city, meanwhile, has failed to prepare for the influx of new children after a huge building boom in the 2000’s, notes Saphier. These demolition plans will add more kids, and there are few indications that the new schools will be much larger than the current ones. Says Saphier:
“The city is not broke now but it does have a problem in that much real estate development was encourage by the Bloomberg administration with no provision for additional education resources. The PS 199 school district had a population increase of nearly 50% between 2000 and 2010 (Manhattan as a whole increased 3%) and yet tax breaks were given to developers with no provision for addition classroom space. The city and the DOE are now trying to correct their poor planning on the backs of an already over burdened neighborhood and the school children involved.”
O’Donnell Bill Requires Community Involvement in Sale of School Buildings 031413
Be it on Riverside Blvd, West End Ave, 72nd Street or around Lincoln Center, tens of thousands of apartments have been built over the last 5-10 years on the UWS between 60th and 75th street without a single new public school built to handle the increase in population (not sure if any new police or fire stations were built either). The only thing that I am aware of is the creation of PS452 as an “overflow” school. In addition, not a single G&T program has been created, and only the Mandell School has grown in size on the private school front. This has created a situation where – for many years now – people can not get in their zoned public school. It has created a situation where private schools charge upwards of $40,000 for kindergarten tuition. The way to help solve this issue does not seem to be by creating more apartments. The answer does not seem to be to leave the supply of school spots the same. If there is an answer it is for the the city, the doe and the local and state politicians to walk their talk and make education a priority once and for all and spend the resources needed to build and/or improve new schools. If that means not being able to help build new statdiums, or new parks then so be it. Taxes keep going up and people keep getting less of what really matters to them and their families – housing, health, education and safety.
There should be a law, which mandates that developers set aside space for a school or build a school for however many new units they build in a neighborhood. Right now, they just wantonly build, and those of us who live in the neighborhood are the ones left dealing with the problems of overcrowding.
End government schooling. Switch to the Internet for free MIT level courses all the way through college.
I am proud to have been the author of this resolution about the the DOE selling off a public school. It was written and adopted on Feb. 21st.
I just want to add this to the record. And would appreciate it if you would updcortège body of the story itself with this information about this resolution. It was the first political,action dealing with this the DOE selling off public property to a luxury developer.
At a joint meeting lon Feb. 21, 2013 of The Ansonia Insependent Democrats and the Park River Independent Democrats this resolution was adopted by both clubs. The proposaed sale and demolition of the school resides as one might say in these clubs’ “catchment”.
Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and Councilwoman Gale Brewer were also at the meeting. The gave reports and what they knew about the issue. Which given the lack of any initial notice or consulatation with the public was much less than we need to know.
They agreed with the resolution that at the very least the City and the Dept. Of Ed MUST institute a process that recognizes the need for public input.
On a more positive note, both clubs voted to include themselves in the large and growing coalition that is supporting the 10 point Women’s Equality Act.
Resolution on City’s Proposal on PS 199
Whereas, quality public schools are the foundation of any successful community; and
Whereas, free universal public education has been the vehicle of upward mobility for new arrivals to New York City for generations, and
Whereas PS 199 is one of the best and most sought-after public elementary schools in the city of New York; and
Whereas in the hope of improving their children’s lives lead many people to move to the Upper West Side so that their children may attend PS 199;
Whereas, as part of the renaissance New York City has experienced there has been an enormous growth in the number of young school aged children on the West Side; and
Whereas, the City and its Department of Education has, for too long, neither acknowledged such growth, nor adequately planned for it in thriving neighborhoods such as the Upper West Side; and
Whereas, this neglect on the part of the Department of Education has resulted in over-demand for attendance at such successful schools as PS 199; and
Whereas there is a pressing need for more seats and more space for our growing population of school aged children; and,
Whereas comprehensive planning for adequate seats and space is needed up the school ladder from Pre-K, through high schools; and
Whereas, it is fundamental to our concept of equal opportunity in a democracy that PS 199 remain a public school as part of a publicly funded, universally available public school system; and
Whereas, the privatization of a public good exacerbates economic inequality; and
And whereas, the ad hoc, opportunistic sale of a public property and a public good like a school does NOT qualify as a comprehensive plan for ensuring a stable, continuous and universal public education for an expanding school age population;
It is hereby resolved that the optimal solution to the crisis in public school education will only be achieved through community consultation; and
It is hereby further resolved that the failure the Department of Education to inform the community of PS 199 of its proposals to demolish PS 199, sell the land to a developer so that it may build a high rise building on a low rise brown stone block represents the arrogance and high-handedness of an administration with little regard community’s opinions and concerns; and
It is hereby further resolved that no further action should be taken in regard to the demolition and sale of PS 199 prior to the conduct of public hearings before the appropriate public bodies to determine the best solution to the educational problems confronting the PS 199 community.
Re: #2 above “End government schooling. Switch to the Internet for free MIT level courses all the way through college”
IT IS ALMOST FUNNY … THE WAY FISCAL CONSERVATIVES ARE CAUGHT UP IN THE CRACKPOT THINKING OF THEIR GURU’s LIKE HAYEK AND ROTHBARD WHOSE MANTRA SOUNDS LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF ANIMAL FARM … INSTEAD OF “FOUR LEGS GOOD / TWO LEGS BAD” THESE CHARLATANS BLEAT “ALL GOVERNMENT BAD / ALL FREE ENTERPRISE GOOD”
I mean, REALLY, have six-year-olds taking “free MIT-level courses via the Internet” WITHOUT KNOWLEDGEABLE ADULT INTERVENTION? And since it has been proven that not all children learn the same way (it is called Learning Styles) how can a “one-size -fits-all” Internet approach satisfy all learners? THAT’S WHY WE HAVE PROFESSIONAL EDUCATORS TRAINED TO WORK INDIVIDUALLY WITH CHILDREN IN PLACES CALLED SCHOOLS !!!!!!!!!!
But, then again, what can you expect. As the recent election clearly revealed, Republicans, and especially fiscally conservative Republicans, LIVE IN AN ALTERNATE REALITY WHERE FACTS EXIST TO BE MADE UP AS NEEDED.
Thank you for the excellent report on this ludicrous proposal to make up for the DOE’s poor planning by adding thousands of additional high priced dwellings to an already over-developed neighborhood with too few schools. Putting kids in the basement of a high rise after years of disruption seems like a really bad idea.
One thing I haven’t seen mentioned about the PS 199 site is that half of the property is a NYC Park maintained by the Parks Department. So the City can now sell parkland for high-rises? Then why not sell a piece of Central Park? Is that what this city is coming to?! The new school would have no outdoor play space for the kids?
Our community has been drained of resources and services at affordable prices, while stores are closing due to escalating rents. This small area has a narrow subway station that gets dangerously overcrowded at rush hour. It has diminishing supermarkets, and dubious distinction of having the highest use of electricity anywhere in the city. There is little sky to be seen on West End already and the city is planning to take even more. In an overbuilt part of this town, the last thing we need is a demolished public school and another 50 story luxury building.
Some recent articles in DNA news and the WSJ have really revealed how this type of thing can be a total nightmare – where schools become even more overcrowded due to continued poor planning, construction is stalled when developers lose money and the city eventually ends up paying.
And WHY is the PS 199 PTA quite literally batting down parents and politicians who oppose it? What is their stake in this game? They are encouraging apathy – at best – and at worst withholding information parents really need. This is not a situation that should be handled with a “wait and see” approach.
SIGN THE PETITION and say NO to this project: https://www.change.org/petitions/chancellor-dennis-walcott-mayor-michael-bloomberg-nyc-doe-and-nyc-ecf-stop-the-development-of-the-ps199-site